"Norway, the Land of Our Roots,"

by Gloria June (Ginther) Brown


Ten of us (Lorin & Marylou Ginther, Wayne & Judith Ginther, Lori & Brian Ginther-Hutt with their two 'great and fun to be with' teenage children, Zach & Kaitlyn, myself (a Ginther too!), and Bruce Cardno, a friend from Canada traveled throughout Norway during August 2008. This trip was instigated by Lorin & Marylou approximately one year prior to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary and to visit the land of the Ginther family roots. Champagne toasts, gifts and cards, and ceremonial wait-service singing/fireworks and kisses ensued in celebration of their onboard 50th wedding anniversary! Wayne & Judith also celebrated an anniversary - their 38th - with gifts/cards and singing/kissing by the wait-service much to Wayne's blushing delight!

While in Bergen, we rode the funicular to the top of the mountain to view the city. We enjoyed the Bryggens museum tour through the ancient buildings and alleyways (even in the pouring rain) and learned of the harsh Hanseatic period, had a $30 cup of soup (yes, $30 for one cup), and were amazed to see the many tall ships in the harbor. Our 12-day voyage on the MS Finnmarken (Hurtigruten Coastal Voyages) stopped at 67 ports on the combined northbound voyage past the Arctic Circle to the Russian border and southbound back to Bergen. Starting and ending in Bergen, we saw/visited the following towns/cities: Maloy, Torvik, Alesund, Molde, Kristiansund, Trondheim, Rorvik, Ornes, Bodo, Stamsund, Svolvaer, Harstad, Finnsnes, Tromso, Skjervoy, Hammerfest, Havoysund, Honningsvag, Kjolefjord, Mehamn, Berlevag, and Kirkenes and then back south to Bergen. The ever-changing beautiful scenery was spectacular and exhilarating to one's senses, each view seemingly more spectacular than the last. Port stops missed during the night northbound were available to see and tour during the day southbound. People embarked and disembarked at the many ports of call which made 'people-watching' great secondary entertainment!

The MS Finnmarken was a beautifully decorated ship - Art Nouveau style with 11 Norwegian artists' work throughout. The ship had 300+ staterooms, two hot tubs, a small swimming pool, sauna and small fitness room, a beautifully windowed dining room and large panoramic lounges and observation areas. Meals on-board consisted of large breakfast and lunch buffets; dinner was a set menu selected by the chef and seating was assigned. The buffets were stocked with fish of every kind and preparation, many cheeses, meats included reindeer, whale, lamb, beef, pork, caviar, cold cuts, eggs/egg dishes along with Norwegian pancakes twice, delicious breads, salads, fruits, soup, some pastas, two ice cream bins and many puddings/whipped cream desserts but no cakes, cookies or pies ever were seen.

Off-board excursions , whether for thirty minutes or four hours, were quite an adventure! Taking a bus through the countryside to enter a Sami tent (forbearers of the Vikings; commonly known as Laplanders) and imbibe reindeer broth while listening to Sami fireside chants and traveling again by bus to the Russian border and talking to a Norwegian military border guard about Russia's "no-man" land of barbed wire encircling their country were both fascinating and sobering events. Our self-guided tours of the many ports were quite delightful - not knowing what was around the next corner always seemed to turn into a race against the ship's five minute departure warning. My brother, Lorin, busy on the telephone to his office in Puyallup, Washington, failed to hear the ship's horn. Realizing Lorin was not onboard, Marylou and I pleaded, wailed, and cried big tears to the gangplank crew not to leave him behind, but to no avail. The ship pulled out about 30 feet but then suddenly stopped. There was Lorin on the dock - pleading but no wailing was noted. Needless to say, he was allowed to jump through a small rear door of the ship with everyone on the balconies whistling and clapping!! And, needless to say, he did not have to catch a taxi or ferry, as Marylou shouted from the balcony for him to do to get himself to the next port! What a relief, we actually didn't know if he even knew what or where the next port was, but what a dashing celebrity he was! (No pun intended!)

Touring the many cathedrals/churches, museums, and shops, crossing the Arctic Circle with King Neptune ceremonies, docking in the center of most villages/towns, acknowledging with banners and music passing opposite-bound sister ships, watching breathlessly as our ship passed through narrow gorges and under seemingly low bridges, seeing the numerous fish farms all along the way, noting that most cities/towns had very few old buildings due to extensive German bombing in WWII, sailing slowly through Risoyrenna, a 3-mile long man-built channel with the ship almost touching the markers, seeing "The Seven Sisters, " a beautiful mountain range up to 3,630 feet high, noticing the many oil/gas sea refineries and terminals (and noting that gasoline exceeded $10/gallon) AND, racing over, around and on top of one another to the balcony to photograph "THE HOLE"--the famous 480 foot long, 115 foot high and 80 foot wide HOLE through Torg-hatten Mountain. "The Hole" almost obliterated the "whole" gang of us who scrambled to see "The Hole," I do believe!

A most exciting game called 'Catch-Phrase' was played each evening in Lorin & Marylou's suite on Deck 6. What fun! Some (or maybe lots) of noise, hilarity, and raucousness, I will admit, did occur. However, the grouchy and dour next door neighbor who reported Room 615 got nowhere with his complaints. Even the Front Desk said 8pm was too early to complain of exuberant behavior! I think our cute Norwegian disciplinarian would liked to have joined us!

Six of us (the Ginther-Hutts flew off to London) piled into a waiting 9-passenger van upon debarkation at Bergen and off we headed for Vik. Forty (40) tunnels were counted between Bergen and Vik! Again, the scenery was spectacular - high, rocky mountains with patches of snow, steep hairpin curves, many flocks of sheep, little villages nestled in valleys, numerous bridges, beautiful flowers, and the largest fjord in the world, the Sognefjord, were enjoyed by us on our 3 1/2 hour ride to Vik. While in Vik, we visited with Stadem cousins, Aslaug and family, on their raspberry farm and were treated to waffles and freshly picked raspberries. Later, we checked into the Dampen Inn & Pub where much 'pubbing' was heard all night long! We visited the Hopperstad Stave Kirk (1130) which was under repair, the Hove Stone Church (1150s), and noted the Vikoyri, the first shore dwellers settlement in the center of Vik. Even though our ancestors' lives were difficult, it was thrilling to see the beauty that surrounded them. The valleys and mountains where our Stadem ancestors lived overlooking the Sognefjord was a beautiful sight to behold. How wonderful it was to trod their paths and view their personal vistas!

After placing a telephone call to Arne & Marit Holbeck, 3rd cousins to us on Grandmother Bergit's side of the family from Kristiansand, we arranged to meet on the roadside to be escorted to their son's cabin in Brokke for the night. Again, from Vik to Brokke there was gorgeous scenery - completely still and quiet waters reflected the mountains, trees and clouds and 'so cute' wooden bus stops with sod roofs dotted the roadsides. In fact, sod roofs were everywhere including the Brokke five-bedroom cabin. Marit had prepared a delicious Norwegian dinner for us. Coffee and fantastic lefsa were served after our walk to view the area and the spectacular granite mountain outside the front door!

After a hearty ' Marit' breakfast the next morning, we learned the coming two day's agenda from Arne. Upon leaving the Brokke cabin we motored to Arne & Marit's charming cabin on the lake (a 45 minute drive from their son's cabin) where we had coffee and cookies, then on to Kristiansand where we toured the magnificent cathedral where Arne & Marit are greeters. A very tasty lunch served on beautiful Norwegian china was had in their lovely home. We then drove to Mandal where we met Cousin Tor and his wife, Marit, and all of us had dinner that evening at our antique-laden little hotel.

The following day, Tor, our history buff and tour guide cousin, took us to Grandmother Bergit's family farm, church, and past her grandparents' farm. While at Bergit's family farm, an elderly neighbor appeared with a Vatendal History book which showed pictures of Bergit's farm/homesite and a notation of her birth in 1885. Lorin climbed the belltower of the church and rang out the news that the Ginthers had returned to their roots! Tor pointed out a large stone outside the church with a hole for a rope to go through to be attached to a wrongdoer. Brother Wayne reenacted this scene but declined to remain for the required two days! Next on the day's agenda was a surprise (to us) lunch of Norwegian delicacies at Tor's aunt and uncle's home, Andreas & Dagny Holbeck, and then on to the home of Tor's mother where she displayed a wedding picture of Bergit and Alfred. The 'cousin reunion' dinner planned and orchestrated by Arne & Marit later that evening was so touching, not only for us, but for the many Holbecks who were reunited that night. Arne had sent out invitations to the cousins he knew and asked them to invite those he did not know so there were numerous 'reunions.' Flowers, candles, American and Norwegian flags decorated the tables. Name tags, genealogy printouts, an opening statement of appreciation by Lorin, a slide show presentation narrated by Gloria (with a cousin translating) of the 2008 Stadem reunion along with included pictures of Bergit, Alfred, and family, and a presentation by Arne, our M.C., regarding the oldest Holbeck recorded in the Holum/Mandal area was the program for the evening. Much talking and consequent translations went on too! Group and unit pictures were taken by Bruce - many cameras were lined up for him to figure out how to use! A wonderful dinner was served along with delicious desserts consisting of special Mandal cakes and tortes and the best coffee ever! It was a grand evening - one made so special for us by all our 35 Norwegian cousins - and one never to be forgotten! Tor's wife, Marit, surprised us with a package of lefsa that she had made earlier in the day and we enjoyed all of it on our ride to Bergen the next day. Thank you, Marit!

We took the coast road through Stavanger and arrived in Bergen in about 7 hours. Two ferry boat rides, four sets of breathtaking interlocking tunnels and bridges, sharp curves and many farms and farm animals were seen. Again, it was beautiful and more beautiful. We enjoyed an Italian dinner (all decided 'no more fish' for awhile as every meal onboard the ship had quantities of seafood) in rainy Bergen that evening and the next morning at 6am we flew home. Wayne & Judith continued their holiday to Oslo and Copenhagen.

This trip with my beloved family and meeting my beloved extended Norwegian family was a trip of a lifetime - one most people never realize - and one, I know, the Ginther family will always remember with much gratitude and love. To walk in our ancestors paths, to see where and how they lived, to see, feel and learn of our roots, and most of all, to meet and get to know in person our Stadem and Holbeck relatives - what a beautiful experience August of 2008 was for all of us - one forever frozen in memory and forever cherished.

--Gloria June Ginther Brown

(Granddaughter of Bergit Wilhelmine Holbeck & Alfred Jorgen Stadem)

September 1, 2008

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